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Grave Peril, Page 37

Jim Butcher

Chapter Thirty-seven

  Fury surged through me, before fear or anxiety, a fury so scarlet and bright that I could scarcely believe it was mine. Maybe it wasn't. After all, you are what you eat - even if you're a wizard.

  "Let go, Kyle," I grated. "You've got one chance to live through this. Walk away, right now. "

  Kyle laughed, letting his fangs extend. "No more bluffs, wizard," he purred. "No more illusions. Take him, sister. "

  Kelly came at me in a rush, but I had been waiting for that. I lifted my right hand and snarled, "Ventas servitas!" A furious column of wind slammed into her like a bag of sand, catching her in midair and driving her across the room, into the wall.

  Kyle screamed in fury, drawing his hand back off of my throat and then driving it at me, I dodged the first blow by jerking my head to one side, and heard his hand crunch into the stone. The dodge cost me my balance, and as I teetered, he lashed out again, aiming for my neck. All I could do was watch it come.

  And then Susan came between us. I didn't see her move toward us, but I saw her catch the blow in both of her hands. She spun, twisting her hips and body and shoulders, letting out a furious scream. She threw Kyle across the room, in the air the whole way, and with no noticeable trajectory. He slammed into his sister, driving them both into the wall once more. I heard Kelly scream, incoherent and bestial. The black, slime-covered bat-thing beneath the pleasant flesh mask tore its way out, shredding damply flapping skin with its talons as it started raking at Kyle. He struggled against her, shouting something that became lost in his creature-form's scream as he too tore his way free. The two of them started clawing at one another in a frenzy, fangs and tongues and talons flashing.

  I snarled, and rolled my wrist, flipping my hand toward them in a gesture wholly unfamiliar to me. Words spilled from my lips in thundering syllables, "Satharak, na-kadum!" That scarlet, furious power I had stolen from Kravos flashed over me, following the gesture of my right hand, lashing out in a blaze of scarlet light that spun around the maddened vampires. The scarlet blaze whirled about them, winding too swiftly to be seen, a ribbon of flame that cocooned them both, burned brighter and hotter, the spell enfolding them in fire.

  They screamed as they died, sounds like metal sheets tearing, and somehow also like terrified children. Heat thrummed back against us, almost singeing the exposed hairs on my legs, my chest. Greasy black smoke started to spread over the floor, and it stank.

  I watched as they burned, though I could see nothing beneath the blazing flame-cocoon. Part of me wanted to dance in malicious glee, to throw my arms up in the air and crow my defiance and scorn to my enemies while they died, and to roll through their ashes when they'd cooled.

  More of me grew sickened. I stared at the spell I had wrought and couldn't believe it had come from me - whether or not I'd taken the power, maybe even some primal knowledge of this spell, from Kravos's devoured spirit, the magic had come from me. I had killed them, as swiftly and as efficiently and with as little forethought as one gives to crushing an ant.

  They were vampires, some part of me said. They had it coming. They were monsters.

  I glanced aside, at Susan, who stood panting, her white shirt stained dark brown with blood. She stared at the fire, her eyes dark and wide, the whites filled in with black. I watched her shudder and close her eyes. When she opened them again, they were normal once more, blurred with tears.

  Within the confines of my spell, the screams stopped. Now there were only cracklings. Poppings. The sound of overheated marrow boiling, bursting out of bone.

  I turned away, toward the door, and said, "Let's go. "

  Susan and Justine followed me.

  I led them through the basement. It was large and unfinished and damp. The room outside the washroom had a large drain in the center of the floor. There were corpses, there. Children from the masquerade. Others, dressed in rags and castoff clothes. The missing street people.

  I stopped long enough to send my senses questing out over them, but there was no stirring of breath, no faint pulse of heartbeat. The corpses showed no lividity at all. The floor lay damp beneath our feet, and a hose still ran out a trickle of water, to one side.

  Dinner had already been served.

  "I hate them," I said. My voice rang out too loud, in that room. "I hate them, Susan. "

  She said nothing, in answer.

  "I'm not going to let them keep this up. I've tried to stay out of their way before. I can't, now. Not after what I've seen. "

  "You can't fight them," Justine whispered. "They're too strong. There are too many of them. "

  I held up a hand, and Justine fell silent. I tilted my head to one side, and heard a faint thrumming, at the very edges of my magical perception. I stalked across the room, around the bodies, to an alcove in the wall.

  Cheap shelving had been installed in the alcove, and on the shelves sat my shield bracelet, my blasting rod, and Bob's skull, still in its fishnet sack. Even as I approached, the skull's eyes flared to life.

  "Harry," Bob said. "Stars and skies, you're all right!" He hesitated for a second, and then said, "And looking grim. Even dressed in boxers with yellow duckies on them. "

  I glanced down, and did my best to picture a vampire wearing boxers with yellow duckies. Or a wizard wearing yellow duckies, for that matter. "Bob," I said.

  Bob whistled. "Wow. Your aura is different. You look a lot like - "

  "Shut up, Bob," I said, my voice very quiet.

  He did.

  I put on my bracelet, and took up my rod. I scanned around and found my staff wedged into a corner, and took it out as well. "Bob," I asked. "What is all my stuff doing here?"

  "Oh," Bob said. "That. Well. Bianca got the idea, somewhere, that your stuff might explode if anyone messed around with it. "

  I heard the wryness in my voice, though I didn't feel it. "She did, did she. "

  "I can't imagine how. "

  "I'm doubling your pay. " I took Bob's skull and handed it back to Justine. "Carry this. Don't drop it. "

  Bob whistled. "Hey, cutie. That's a real nice red cloak you got there. Will you let me see the lining?"

  I swatted the skull on the way past, drawing an outraged, "Ow!" from Bob.

  "Stop goofing around. We're still inside Bianca's, and we still have to get out. " I frowned, and glanced at Justine, then swiftly, left and right. "Where's Susan?"

  Justine blinked. "She was right here behind - " She turned, staring.

  Water dripped.

  Silence reigned.

  Justine started trembling like a leaf. "Here," she whispered. "They're here. We can't see them. "

  "What's this 'we' stuff, kimosabe," Bob muttered. The skull spun about in its fishnet sack. "I don't see any veils, Harry. "

  I swept my eyes left and right, gripping my blasting rod. "Did you see her leave? Or anyone take her?"

  Bob coughed. "Well. Truth be told, I was looking at Justine's luscious little - "

  "I get the point, Bob. "

  "Sorry. "

  I shook my head, irritated. "They snuck in, under a veil maybe. Grabbed Susan and went. Why the hell didn't they stick around? Just put a knife in my back? Why didn't they take Justine, too?"

  "Good questions," Bob said.

  "I'll tell you why. Because they weren't here. They couldn't have just carried Susan off that easy. Not now. "

  "Why not?" Bob asked.

  "Trust me. She'd be a handful. They couldn't do it without making a fuss, which we'd notice. "

  "Assuming you're right," Bob said, "why would she just walk away?"

  Justine glanced back at me, and licked her lips. "Bianca could make her. I've seen her do it. She made Susan walk into the laundry room on her own. "

  I grunted. "Looks like Bianca's been hitting the books, Bob. "

  "Vampire wizard," Bob said. "Black magic. Could be very tough. "

  "So can I. Justine, stay behind me. Keep you
r eyes open. "

  "Yes, sir," she said, her voice quiet. I strode past her, toward the stairs. Some of the energy I'd felt before had faded away. My pain and weakness grew closer to me, more noticeable. I did everything I could to shove it to the back of my mind. A swift little thrill of panic gabbled in my throat and tried to make me start screaming. I shoved that away, too. I just walked to the bottom of the stairs, and looked up them.

  The doors at the top were elegant wood, and standing open. A soft breeze and the smell of night air flowed down the stairs. Late night, faint with the traces of dusty dawn. I glanced back at Justine, and she all but flinched away from me.

  "Stay down here," I told her. "Bob, some things are going to start flying. Give her whatever help you can. "

  "All right, Harry," Bob said. "You know that door's been opened for you. They're going to be waiting for you to walk up there. "

  "Yeah," I said. "I'm not getting any stronger. Might as well do it now. "

  "You could wait until dawn. Then they'd - "

  I cut him off, short. "Then they'd force their way down here to escape the sunlight. And it would still be a fight. " I glanced at Justine and said, "I'll get you out, if I can. "

  She chanced a swift glance at my face, and back down. "Thank you, Mister Dresden. For trying. "

  "Sure, kid. " I flexed my left hand, feeling the cool silver of the shield bracelet there. I gripped my staff tight. Then rolled the blasting rod through my fingers, feeling the runes carved into the wood, formulae of power, fire, force.

  I put one foot on the stairs. My bare foot made little sound, but the board creaked beneath my weight. I squared my shoulders, and went up the next stair, and the next. Resolute, I guess. Terrified, certainly. Seething with power, with a simmering anger ready to boil over again.

  I tried to clear my mind, to hang onto the anger and to dismiss the fear. I had limited success, but I made it up the stairs.

  At the top, Bianca stood at one end of the great hall through the open doors. She wore the white gown I'd seen her in before, the soft fabric draping and stretching in alluring curves, creating shadows upon her with an artist's conviction. Susan knelt beside her, shaking, her head bowed. Bianca kept one hand on her hair.

  Spread out around and behind Bianca were a dozen vampires; skinny limbs, flabby black bodies and drooling fangs, the flaps of skin between arm and flank and thigh stretched out, here and there, like half-functional wings. Some of the vampires had climbed up the walls and perched there, like gangly black spiders. All of them, even Susan, had huge, dark eyes. All of them stood looking at me.

  In front of Bianca knelt a half-dozen men in plain suits that bulged in odd places. They held guns in their hands. Great big guns. Some kind of assault weapons, I thought. Their eyes looked a little vague, like they'd only been allowed to see some of what was in the room. Just as well.

  I looked back at them and leaned on my staff. And I laughed. It came out a wheezing cackle, that echoed around the great hall, and caused the vampires to stir restlessly.

  Bianca let her lips curve into a slow smile. "And what do you find so amusing, my pet?"

  I smiled back. There was nothing friendly in it. "All of this. For a guy with two sticks and a pair of yellow ducky boxer shorts, you must think I'm a real dangerous man. "

  "As a matter of fact, I do," Bianca said. "Were I you, I would consider it flattery. "

  "Would you?" I asked.

  Bianca let her smile widen. "Oh. Oh, yes. Gentlemen," she said, to the men with guns. "Fire. "